Two Aritco Employees' Holiday Mission to Spread Hope and Clean Water

Aritco employees Josefin Ekvall and Sarah Chen travelled to Uganda to see how Aritco’s holiday donation of Solvatten water purification devices is changing lives, one drop at a time.

The holidays are fast approaching, but Aritco won’t be buying presents for employees or suppliers. Instead, as it has done for the past several years, Aritco will donate purification devices to communities in need in Uganda.

Invented in Sweden, Solvatten is a portable solar-powered device designed to both purify and heat water. A single Solvatten unit has the capacity to supply a family with clean drinking water for up to ten years.

However, the importance of Solvatten extends beyond safeguarding against life-threatening waterborne diseases. It also plays a crucial role in preventing severe illnesses resulting from the inhalation of smoke produced by traditional wood, coal and kerosene open stoves. These stoves are commonly used by an estimated 2.4 billion people worldwide for heating water used in drinking, cooking, and cleaning. In 2020, airborne diseases caused by such indoor pollution led to 3.2 million deaths,  with 237,000 of those fatalities occurring among children under the age of 5.

In 2020, Aritco had the idea of sending two employees to Uganda to witness the donations and their impacts firsthand. However, the Covid-19 Pandemic caused those plans to be postponed. Now, three years later, Artico has finally been able to see this trip come to fruition, sending two members of the global team to Uganda to help distribute this year’s holiday donation.

Sarah’s Story

Sarah Chen, Digital Marketing Specialist at Aritco China, was one of the Aritco employees chosen to participate in the Uganda trip. To qualify for the journey, each candidate had to submit a letter of motivation. In hers, Sarah explained the special connection she felt to the mission of the trip and the Solvatten partnership.

“I grew up in a poor little village in China. When I was kid, my parents were struggling for money to buy food or clothes for us. I would wear my sister’s old clothes. I remember I asked my mom for a new sweater, and she said I could get one when I turned 12. So, I was 12 when I got my first new piece of clothing. I was only able to go to university thanks to scholarships and loans,” Sarah explains.

“I knew what it meant to receive help, and I wanted to give back by helping others. When the chance to go to Uganda was announced, I saw it as my opportunity to make a difference. By sharing pictures and videos, we could raise awareness and encourage more people to help.”

Sarah was shocked but excited when she learned that she was one of two chosen to go on the trip. And when she finally arrived in Uganda, she was hit with a mix of emotions.

“The environment was beautiful, it reminded me of the Chinese countryside. However, the reality became apparent when we interviewed beneficiaries. When during one visit, they were asked about their dreams, many had blank eyes. It was as if something had stolen their dreams,” she says.

“I didn’t fully grasp the importance of water until I saw the conditions in the refugee settlement, located in one of Uganda’s driest areas. The value of water takes on a new meaning. When I grew up, there was plenty of food available, we just couldn’t afford it. Now, where I live, we pay maybe $0.35 per day for water. But in the refugee camp, they barely had any food or water available. During the trip, I kept asking myself, if I lived in this situation, how much would I be willing to pay for water. It was a really powerful question.”

Sarah was also immediately touched by the kindness of the people she met, and she has especially fond memories of the time she spent with the children there. However, there was one encounter in particular that left a lasting impression.

“We spoke with this girl. She was maybe 16 years old. She said she dreamed of being a singer, and we asked her if she would sing for us. She was shy at first. But then she sang a song, and she had a beautiful voice. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could hear the hope in her song. So there are people who still dream. There is still hope.”

Sarah has taken home many powerful memories from her trip to Uganda. And, she is determined to share with others what she witnessed.

“I think it’s really necessary for us to tell people what we are doing. The photos are necessary. The videos are necessary. We need to tell the stories so people realize there are people who need help. They can join us in helping or even just tell others that projects like Solvatten exist,” she says.

Josefin’s Story

Josefin Ekvall was the second Aritco employee chosen to visit Uganda. While Josefin was enthusiastic about documenting the experience through photography, her true motivation extended beyond that. This trip marked the realization of a long-held dream.

“I’ve always dreamt about doing volunteer work. When I was younger, I actively searched for opportunities to help people facing challenges, even considering going to another country for that purpose. But back then, cost was a barrier. So I was very excited when this opportunity came,” she recalls.

Having worked as strategic purchaser at Aritco for less than a year, Josefin was shocked to get the call that she was going to Uganda. This trip would take her far outside her comfort zone, travelling to Africa for the first time with complete strangers.

“Before the trip, I wondered, ‘What if these people don’t like me?’ All these thoughts were going through my mind. But I decided it would be a trip of a lifetime, so I just went with the flow,” Josefin explains.

Upon arriving in Uganda and standing in the open-air arrivals terminal, she was immediately struck by its simplicity compared to what she was accustomed to in Sweden. But while the roads were bumpy and the infrastructure was poor, she was moved by how incredibly kind and friendly the people were.

“When we arrived at the refugee settlement, Kayaka, it was overwhelming to see the conditions in which people lived. There are like 124,000 refugees in the camp and four million total in Uganda. Meeting children who, despite their hardships, found happiness in simple things was eye-opening. Especially, when you compare to children in Sweden who get angry if they don’t have an iPhone.

“However, a heartbreaking moment occurred when a child looked into my eyes and said, ‘I’m hungry.’ I felt helpless. I wanted to give all my money to him. But I couldn’t because it’s not allowed as it’s not fair to the other families. Then, I understood the impact of what we were doing with Solvatten,” Josefin says.

“It gives me goosebumps to think about it. Having witnessed the impact of Solvatten kits on people’s lives, I appreciate Aritco’s decision. Even a single kit can make a significant difference in the lives of ten people within a family.”

Not only do Solvatten devices provide families with safe drinking water, they save time and money spent on gathering wood or buying briquettes. Time the children can use to go to school. And money that can go towards buying food and other necessities.

When families in the refugee camp were asked how much their Solvatten was worth to them, the answer was always the same: priceless.

Now, back in Sweden, Josefin has had a few weeks to try to process everything that happened on her 10-day trip.

“I’m super grateful for having this opportunity. I’ve gained a lot of memorable experiences to reflect on. And, I feel that I can bring about change by sharing my stories and educating people in Sweden so they become aware of the harsh realities of the world we live in. It’s unfair, and we really need to take action,” she reflects.

Josefin’s focus now is on figuring out what she can do both personally and professionally to continue making an impact on those in need.

To learn more about Solvatten and how you can help their mission, visit https://solvatten.org/.

 

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